The late Archbishop Denis Hurley, after whom the Denis Hurley Centre was named, spent his life fighting for the human rights of all individuals, regardless, of race, culture or creed, but it was the poorest of the poor, who most needed his assistance. Now 25 years after the advent of South Africa’s hard-won democracy there are sadly still countless people who live as second class citizens. Most of the people who attend the programmes run by the Denis Hurley Centre (DHC) lack the necessary documentation that allows them access to support services such as government grants and medical care. Something else that they’re unable to do without valid IDs, is cast their vote.
The DHC has spent the past few months mobilising homeless citizens so that they’re able to vote in tomorrow’s national elections. In February this year the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) set up a satellite office at the centre so that homeless people could register to vote. One of the issues the centre faced was the need for voters to provide proof of a residential address. For many of the indigent people living on the streets of Durban their only formal address would be in the town or city where they grew up, which would mean that they would need to return to their home towns in order to vote. To get around this problem the IEC agreed to accept that if someone had spent three of the previous seven nights sleeping on a certain street, they could use that address as their ‘residence’ for registration purposes.
Another stumbling block has been the cost of replacing ID books/cards. While a first application for a South African identity document is free, to replace a lost or stolen ID costs R140, which is prohibitive to someone who has no income. With the help of an overseas grant, the DHC has been able to assist some of these people in replacing their documents, and has also used the funding for voter education. Wristbands sporting the words “I can now vote – can you?” were given out to registered voters, with the aim of creating awareness of the upcoming elections amongst Durban’s homeless community.
Beyond being able to cast their vote, the centre hopes to empower people so that they have a political voice going forward. Two weeks ago the DHC held discussions between political candidates and the local communities in which citizens were able to pose questions to the various parties. The centre has also encouraged local people to sign up as independent electoral observers, and has been reinstated by the IEC as a voting station, allowing all of the newly registered voters to cast their votes in an environment that they are used to.
Well done to the Denis Hurley Centre for all that they’ve done over the past few months to help in this essential democratic process, and to ensure, as they’ve done for decades now, that the rights of all individuals are recognised and protected.